Getting Started in Fly Fishing

By Mark D. Williams.

You will need to buy or borrow gear. You will need to know how to use the gear. And you will need to know where to go to use that gear.

Post a message in our Forums, create a Fishing Internet Club at our website for your neighborhood, post a fishing trip in our Events Calendar, or join a trip that is currently being posted. Flyshops, tackle shops and sporting goods stores usually offer free slide shows about the sport and offer flyfishing classes in flytying and even flycasting. These stores want to sell tackle and flytying materials so if you visit them, they are going to want to teach you the sport and get you hooked. But until you know if you like the sport, there is no need to max out the credit card and buy fancy rods and reels.

I suggest finding a buddy who flyfishes (try our personals). One who will be willing to loan you some waders, a rod, a handful of flies. Buy some flyfishing magazines. Read a basic flyfishing book. I highly recommend hiring a guide since they have rods to use and will tie flies on for you, and can untangle bird's nests knots and will teach you more in a day than you can learn by yourself in two years.

For most flyfishing beginners, I recommend a 9-foot, 6-weight rod, and not a $35 Eagle Claw cheapie either. If you think you'll try this sport more than once, the difference in casting performance in a cheap rod and a good rod is incredible. Redington, Orvis, LL Bean, St. Croix and many other companies all make excellent starter rods, usually under $125. Some have a nice package deal with a reel and line, for $175 or less. But to get started and have a rod that won't impede your casting and will perform and last, you will have to spend close to 100 buckaroos.

That said, you are not committed to a 6-weight rod. That weight is ideal for multi-use purposes. If you plan to fish for both trout and bass, if you plan to fish in windy conditions, if you plan to hook up with some hoggish catfish, then a 6-weight is the weight for you. But if you have designs on tackling small streams for brook trout, a 3- or 4-weight rod will work even better. No need to have that big old whip of a 6-weight on a little brook. If you are going on a trip to Alaska to fish for salmon, you're going to need to buy a heavier rod.

You are going to be bombarded with questions, such as "What action do I want for my rod? Fast, medium or slow?" or "What length rod will I need?" or "What the heck does 'weight' mean?" The experts selling the rods, who can determine what your needs will be, how you cast, and your body type, can help you more than I can. Typically, beginners will not be able to cast a fast-action rod well, but you might be the exception. A 1-weight is the lightest weight for a flyrod. A 3- or 4-weight rod is made for small streams and delicate flies. 5- and 6- weight rods are typically trout rods, best for medium to big rivers and fighting through windy conditions. The higher the number weight, the more it is designed for bigger fish, bigger waters.

If you decide you like flyfishing, you can spend the $300 to $500 later for a great rod. One caveat: don't buy a rod unless you cast it first. Most stores will have an area set up where you can try out the rod.

If you need to skimp on a piece of gear, buy a cheap reel to begin with, somewhere in the $30 to $50 range. If you have the bucks you can go ahead and get a $100 reel that will serve you for a long time, but a cheapie reel for a beginner is fine.

And flyline? If you are fishing for trout, you will want weight-forward flyline in most cases. For bass or striper or other big fish, you might want to think about sinktip or sinking lines. Flylines come in a dazzling array of colors and promises. Find a muted color in the weight that matches your rod for about $40 and move on. If you buy your reel at the same time, the clerks will put the line on your reel (and backing). If you bought the two separately, take them into any flyshop and they will be glad to put the line on the reel. You can also do it yourself but your head will be spinning trying to remember the difference between a leader and a tippet, so go ahead and let them do it.

Leader is the tapered section of monofilament that attaches the flyline to the fly, usually in a 7-12 foot section. It comes in various diameters known as 2X, 3X, 4X, 5X and so on. The higher the number, the lighter the leader. The tippet comes on spools and is monofilament that you attach to the leader and to the fly. You use tippet to add to the leader because as you cut a fly off, you lose leader each time. Soon, you would have only 4 feet of leader if you didn't add tippet.

So buy two to three leaders (ask your clerk for lengths and sizes). Buy two to three spools of tippet.

Buy a pair of nippers (they look like fingernail clippers but work better). The nippers are used to cut tippet. Don't use your teeth or your dentist will be mad at your damaged enamel.

Purchase a pair of forceps. I prefer a combo forceps/pliers to make it easier to crimp the barb on hooks. Forceps are used to remove hooks from the fish's mouth.

You will need a pair of chest waders since as a beginner, you will inevitably step into deeper water than you realized and will just as likely fall a few times. Get felt-soled wading boots to keep from slipping on slick rocks. If you intend to only fish small streams, you can buy hip waders or wading boots with a pair of neoprene socks.

The most important gear you own will be a good pair of polarized sunglasses. These will aid you in cutting glare, seeing fish underwater, and most importantly, protecting your eyes from errant casts, a sure-fire thing for starters.

You can live without a vest or net at first but you will need a really cool fishing cap/hat--no self-respecting angler would ever set foot in the water without a nice lid.

I suggest staying with small streams first, where your presentations can be off a bit and it won't affect your success as much. Catching small brookies and rainbows can teach you affection for the trout and the sport so you can apply that appreciation and wisdom with larger fish. Flyfishing is a sport that is easy to pick up but you never quit learning.

The Necessities

  • Flyrod
  • Reel
  • Flyline
  • Flies and Flybox
  • Forceps, nippers, floatant, and other incidentals
  • Polarized sunglasses

Optional Items

  • Waders
  • Vest
  • Net
  • The perfect fishing hat
  • Zinger (retractable holder for your forceps and nippers
  • Wading staff  

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